The Guardian July 28, 1999


India:
Unions take on Glaxo

Glaxo Laboratories is a British (TNC) transnational corporation engaged 
in the aggressive marketing of so-called ethical drugs, medicines, food 
products, etc, in India. Glaxo is not so ethical when it comes to its 
dealings with its Indian consumers or Indian workforce, however.

Glaxo is notorious for its exorbitantly high pricing regime in India: its 
pharmaceutical products are not only much more expensive than Indian 
brands, but also more expensive than Glaxo's own brands in other countries 
like Canada, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc.

For years, the management of Glaxo has denied trade union rights to its 
large staff of medical sales representatives. It has also routinely 
violated India's labour laws.

In the state of Kerala, Glaxo's sales reps are organised by the Kerala 
Medical & Sales Representatives' Association (KMSRA-CITU). Glaxo's response 
to this union organising activity includes sacking union activists or 
transferring them to far distant parts of the country.

Only recently the company reacted to a rep taking part in union activities 
by transferring the worker from Palakkad in the extreme south of India to 
Agarthala in the extreme north-east, a region having not only a different 
culture but even a different language.

In response to such actions, and also to Glaxo's various unethical 
marketing practices of drugs and medicines in India, the national union 
body to which KMSRA is affiliated, the Federation of Medical & Sales 
Representatives' Associations of India (FMRAI), decided on a national 
campaign of protests.

In Kerala, KMSRA, the local affiliate of FMRAI, has been holding peaceful 
demonstrations and picketing outside Glaxo offices. Glaxo, like a true 
transnational, has responded by lodging false complaints with the police 
against the union and its office bearers.

Unfortunately, such is the clout of a big TNC, in some areas police have 
co-operated with Glaxo management to intimidate and arrest leading 
functionaries of KMSRA without bothering about checking the veracity of the 
complaints. Glaxo even took its phony complaints to the High Court of 
Kerala but the Court rejected them.

Nevertheless, on July 15, 1999, KMSRA members protesting in Palakkad 
against the forced transfer of the union activist to Agarthala mentioned 
earlier, were arrested on another fabricated complaint and detained by 
police.

A month earlier, there had been a peaceful demonstration in Kottayam which 
dispersed without incident. Nevertheless, in the evening police raided the 
homes and hotel rooms of medical representatives on the basis of a 
complaint lodged by the officers of Glaxo. The medical reps were forcibly 
detained by the police.

P Sethumadhavan, the General Secretary of the State Committee of KMSRA, 
says these "are clear cases of direct intervention by police at the behest 
of an employer (the management of a trans-national corporation) in the free 
and normal function of a trade union.... These actions are, undoubtedly, 
organised by vested interests."

The union has called upon "all the trade unions, mass organisations and the 
democratic sections of the people" to send protest letters to M/S Glaxo 
Pharmaceuticals, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli, Mumbai 96 400 025 India.

Letters should also be sent to the Director General of Police, Trivandrum, 
Kerala State, India, and to the Prime Minister of India, A B Vajpayee, in 
New Delhi.

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